This is a special time of year for beer, as the hop harvest commences there is a short window for brewers to seize upon parcels of the fresh green cones and produce something magical. Aromas and flavours that can range from delicate green pea to stunningly ripe fruit and a host of ethereal and often indescribable notes in between. It’s lightning in a bottle (or a can these days), and it can only be captured once a year.
Despite a difficult season in Nelson with hail causing catastrophic damage in Motueka, this year brewers up and down the country produced a record number of fresh hop offerings. With an increasing number being packaged in cans, and New World supermarkets driving a big fresh hop campaign this year, these beers were more available than ever.
With so many releases of such high quality, I couldn’t resist putting together a top 10 of my own. Not a competition by any means, just my individual pick of the bunch, with the only criteria being that it had to be available in package, and I had to be able to get my hands on it. In all I tasted over 20 fresh hop beers, so I had ample to choose from.
As well as the density of releases this year, the quality was exceptionally high, and the scores for these top 10 were all incredibly close together. With that, here’s my top ten fresh hop beers of 2021.
11. URBANAUT 6-Pack
Ok, not a beer, nor part of the top 10, but I have to give a shout out to Urbanaut for this one. As I mentioned, this was a bumper year for fresh hop releases, but Urbanaut absolutely blew the doors off with this pack of six unique cans, each sporting a different style of beer and a single hop variety. Being able to taste these hops solo and see how they each lend their qualities to a beer style was fascinating. And getting it all brewed on time must have been an incredibly arduous labour of love in the brewery. I hope the exercise didn’t break them because I’d love to see this one back next year.
10. BAYLANDS Hazy Hop Bomb Nectaron Pale Ale
A three way of pineapple, grapefruit and leafy herbaceous aromas with a crisp and rapid palate that moves along at a clip. Zero overripe flavours from the haze or overt sweetness from the malt base. Well balanced bitterness and awesome drinkability, and that lower %abv makes this is one of most smashable on the list.
9. BEHEMOTH Hop Brothers IPA
Clayton Hops popping up once again this season with the brothers Andrew, Glen and Brian Clayon representing here. This Nelson Sauvin IPA has pungent gooseberry over tropical mango and passionfruit aromas, while the flavour brings an abundance of super ripe tropical fruit. More mango, pawpaw and a streak of cleansing lime in the sharply bitter finish. More conventional than some of the wilder fresh hops this year, but an undeniably well-made and super satisfying IPA.
8. PANHEAD The Green Go IPA
Of all the fresh hops this year to use the new Nectaron, this one captures the character of that hop the best. Pineapple, peach and melon aromas lead into a ripe stone fruit and zesty lemon lime flavours. Big and satisfying, but still beautifully crisp and nimble on the palate. Smooth, classy and dangerously drinkable, I just couldn’t get enough of this one.
7. PARROTDOG Brent Hazy IPA
Arrestingly sharp citrus aroma leaps out of the can the moment it’s cracked open, with some softer tropicals revealed further in. That incredible sharpness continues with racy citrus juice and tart skinned nectarine, finishing prickly and clean. Absolutely alive with fresh flavours, this is easily the juiciest and most fruit forward of the 10.
6. EPIC Green Machine IPA
An interestingly understated IPA here, especially from Epic. The nose is green, with a distinctly leafy note along with the stone fruit and citrus from Nectaron hops. The hop driven flavours are clean and fruity, but not into the super-juicy spectrum. This gives the malt room to express itself and add satisfying character. It’s almost a little bit English in style, and much more unique for it. Of any on the list, this one grew on me the most.
5. 8 WIRED Fresh Hopwired IPA
This NZ IPA trailblazer was born to be a fresh hop, and it’s represented for almost 10 years now. Stunningly bright lime and grapefruit citrus dominate the aroma, while mysterious flavours of green gummy bears and green grapes appear on the palate. A curious, gentler version of the typical Hopwired, and a great display of unique fresh hop flavours.
4. URBANAUT Cascade Pale Ale
Grapefruit rind and thyme aromas with a soft malt graininess, with an incredible fusion of fresh green herbal flavours and a smooth malt backbone. One of the lightest ABVs on the list, but still holds a medium body and a finely poised bitterness. A perfect case study in fresh hop beer, with flavours that are alive, complex and defiantly difficult to describe.
3. McLEOD’S 802 #33 IPA
The 802 series has become legendary for its ever changing super hop-driven IPAs, so taking on fresh hops is a natural evolution. The Nelson Sauvin from Clayton Hops comes out super strong and super dank on the nose, sticky resin, gooseberry and lychee with sharp lemon citrus on the palate. Awesome freshness and hop flavour concentration, sound bitterness and malt balance. One of the best 802’s and one of the best fresh hops of the year.
2. BAYLANDS Waifly IPA
WAIFLY has been a strong contender in previous years, and the streak continues. The moment I cracked the can I could smell the fresh aroma pouring out. Gummy bears and tutti-frutti gum along with huge passionfruit. The massive ripeness is cut by a sharp fresh acidity racing down the palate, with a poised bitterness and a finish that’s lingering but clean. A fresh hop classic.
1. HOP FEDERATION Green Limousine IPA
Available in can and outside of Nelson for the first time this year. Crisp green grape, passionfruit and gentle citrus aroma with sugar-snap pea and super smooth malt on the palate. The strong bitterness kicks in right where it needs to, keeping those fresh flavours rapid and refreshing. It’s the perfect balance of great fresh hop oomph combined with strong bitterness and exceptional drinkability that pushed this one up to the top spot for me this year.